I love having tea in the conservatory first thing in the morning. Especially when the tea of the day is such a nutritional powerhouse to get me started on the right foot. Nettle tea, spruced up with some spearmint I couldn’t resist this morning, is an unsung hero of the herbal world. Care to learn more?
Stinging nettle, or Urtica Dioica is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the family Urticaceae. It originated in Europe, much of temperate Asia and western North Africa. However, it currently flourishes happily worldwide, including New Zealand and North America. On the surface, it is just a common nettle, and to many people an annoying weed. It has no outward features to brag about– just some green foliage. It does flower, but, they are rather uninspiring. To make matters worse, nettle has tiny hairs all along the underside of the leaves and stems that once touched –will not soon be forgotten. These hairs inject histamine, which causes itching, and acetylcholine, which causes a burning sensation. The resulting itching and burning can be extremely unpleasant and often results in hives. For most, a dose of benadryl and some calamine lotion will sooth the discomfort but for some the reaction is more severe and can last approximately 12 hours. Finally, it spreads by rhizome and seed making containing it a bit of a challenge. So why in the world would I be recommending it? Because once the detriments are effectively managed, this unassuming and somewhat hostile plant brings a goldmine of benefits.
So, with managing detriments in mind–first things first. In order to utilize its benefits you also have to be able to handle it. Fortunately, simply wearing gloves and long pants to harvest should protect you; and, cooking or drying before use will take the ‘sting’ out of stinging nettles leaving them safe for consumption. You want to try and harvest the new growth while it is under knee height; and, you try to take only the first 6 inches or so for use. Any other growth tends to be a bit tough and woody, so not as palatable. Don’t worry if you miss the Spring harvest. You can cut it down, use it for compost, and it will grow back very quickly to provide another opportunity for harvest. Nettles can be found growing wild and are easily foraged. Remember, though, to gather well away from roads or places where exhaust or spraying anything nasty would occur. Or you can do what I did and dedicate a patch just to this beneficial plant. I placed my patch outside our fenced in area because I wasn’t worried about any deer or critters destroying it (they don’t like getting stung anymore than humans do) and this prevented my dogs/guests/children from accidentally wandering into it while exploring. That would be a terrible memory best avoided! I like my patch because it is easy to harvest, use for compost, there is no risk of me misidentification in the wild while I was learning to recognize it, and it minimizes the “spread” factor mentioned earlier. Another way to help contain nettles is to plant up a big pot and skip the patch. Finally, a strategically placed patch could also help as “security” to deter deer or other critters from getting into more tasty garden options or even to deter humans if you really don’t like said humans. (joking).
Now for the benefits:
It is a Superfood.
Stinging Nettles are literally a multivitamin in a cup. You can use fresh or dried nettles to make a delicious tea that provides an extraordinary amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants–including iron, potassium and silica. According to Livestrong (citing Bastyr University, a natural-medicine education center in Washington State) one cup of nettle tea (using about 2 tablespoons of crushed, dried leaves) will supply a whopping 7.7 percent to 17.5 percent of the daily recommended intake of iron, depending on your nutritional requirements. The calcium content of stinging nettles is also shocking: 1 cup provides 32.9 to 42.8 percent of the amount you require daily. A single 1 cup serving of cooked nettles or tea would yield you a huge boost of 1790 IU of vitamin A or three times what you need in a single day. Vitamin A can also be stored by the body so you have it available for days when intake is lower. Vitamin K–needed for blood clotting- is another provision of nettles with each 1 cup portion providing 369-493 percent of a days needs; and, it also can also be stored in the body for those days when you might not get enough. Nettle also contains the vitamin B complex (including B-1, B-2, B-3, and B-5) , vitamin K1 and vitamin C, which can help the body absorb the iron and other minerals found in the plant. To top it all off, nettle provides amino acids, fatty acids, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium, numerous phytonutrients and antioxidants, including acetic acid, beta-carotene, betaine, caffeic acid, and lycopene. Wow!
In addition to enjoying as tea, it can be cooked and eaten as you would any leafy green vegetable. Some people recommend you blanch fresh nettle quickly in a highly salted water then drop into an ice bath and dry before cooking. Others recommend rinsing to clean and then sautéing or steaming without the step of blanching. You don’t want to overcook but you also want to cook long enough to neutralize the stingers. A few minutes at high heat is generally enough– but be careful your first time. It is largely personal preference which method is chosen but make sure to wear protection for your hands until cooking has occurred. The taste is similar to spinach and nettles can be used as a substitute for this veggie. You can sauté them with eggs, as a stand alone side, in pesto, thrown into soup, use as a topping on pizza or pasta, and a thousand other recipes. The only limit is your imagination! The nutritional values of cooked nettle is the same as the tea with two cups of fresh leaves cooking down to one cup/serving when finished.
Powerful Herbal Medicine. In addition to enjoying as tea and eating once cooked, nettle can be taken in freeze dried capsules, made into a tincture, or used in creams (usually for pain relief from arthritic conditions). Since ancient times nettles have been used as an anti inflammatory for many conditions where inflammation is a component. One of the most common of these is arthritis of all kinds as well as painful muscle and join pain from other sources. Herbalists currently today consider nettles for many conditions where chronic inflammation is present. Nettles have also been used to help relieve seasonal allergies and to relieve the symptoms of enlarged prostate. It is important to note that nettles have NOT been generally used to relieve the underlying condition leading to an enlarged prostate just the symptoms of this condition and great care should be taken to see a doctor for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis. Due to the high iron and vitamin/mineral content, nettles have been used to help with anemia, weakness, and for some nutritional deficiencies. And nettle is frequently used as a first choice general tonic to improve the bodies overall strength and vigor which helps to fend off disease in the first place. More recently, nettle has been used to help with lowering blood sugar, decreasing blood pressure, improving liver health– especially if damage was done due to inflammation, as a natural diuretic, to strengthen kidney health, and to assist with urinary tract infection.
While nettles have been used for centuries, with enough people finding relief to continue to use them, scientific studies have been generally small and yielded mixed and inconsistent results. There have been some studies done that support potential benefits for the above conditions and some that do not. I can say that nettle has helped me personally a great deal in managing arthritis, for fatigue, seasonal allergies, and improving general health. As with any herbal addition, however, one must be aware of interactions and side effects. Pregnant women should NOT take nettle as it can cause uterine contractions leading to miscarriage. Although rare, some people can be allergic and in some cases severely so– even to a life threatening degree. If you have never been exposed to nettle before proceed with due caution. Side effects are extremely rare and are usually very mild if they do occur, such as upset stomach. Nettle can interfere with certain medications such as insulin, blood thinners, blood pressure medication, diuretics, and lithium. This list is not all inclusive, however, and if you take any medications at all– make sure to specifically ask your doctor if nettle would be safe to add. Anyone considering nettle for health purposes please see the disclaimer below. 🙂
Nettle makes INCREDIBLE compost and fertilizer
It really is amazing. All those vitamins and minerals that make nettle a nutritional power house can also be used to fertilize and improve your soil without chemicals or synthetics. It is nitrogen heavy so it balances a “brown heavy” compost and acts as a natural accelerator to your pile. You can also make nettle tea for your plants by using one bucket of chopped up nettle arial parts and soaking for two weeks or so. Stir every couple of days and strain. Dilute the resulting tea in a 1 part tea to 10 parts water ratio and soak the roots of your chosen plants. Not all plants benefit from this tea but the ones that do? WOW! Do they EVER!!! Stay tuned because next week I am going to post an article on how to use nettle as a fertilizer and soil improver. I will go into more depth as to which plants benefit, which don’t, how to make it, and other ways to use nettle leaves in a permaculture environment.
I am thrilled to have this little minx in my herbal and edible arsenal– and I hope you are inspired to try some too!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and each persons health is unique. All herbal remedies have the possibility of interacting with medication, causing allergy, impacting other health issues, etc. Information in this article is for information and educational purposes only. Please check with your doctor before trying any herbal supplement or remedy including stinging nettles. The statements and suggestions in this article are the opinion of the author. They have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease.